Today is my Dad’s birthday.
It is his first birthday in heaven.
We won’t have cake with him.
I remember bringing a cake with my kids to the hospital last year, though it did not feel like a time to celebrate. But my Dad always loved cake. He did not like hospitals. Never mind that he found himself taking residence IN the hospital for an extended stay.
I can’t say for sure, but I believe when I suggested we’d bring him a cake, he was not enjoying the idea of celebrating this birthday. He tolerated it for the kids and probably for me, the consummate party planner that I am. It was no surprise to anyone, he wasn’t really interested in cake.
He was very sick. I still brought him cake.
But alas he was turning 80 in the hospital, so the kids, Jon and I brought him the cake. We had hoped it would cheer him up like many birthdays before. We brought him a cake to celebrate. When in the hospital, he was not really able to eat any of the cake, so I began to grasp the reality our days together would soon come to an end.
He fought the good fight to work through his medical challenges during the many weeks in and out of the hospital. We were all proud of his valiant effort. My broken heart knew last year, as much as I tried to deny it for as long as I could, that my Dad would probably not see another birthday this side of heaven.
There probably would be no more cake.
It breaks my heart, I heal more each day from the deep grief. But I am glad he is no longer suffering, physically, mentally, and emotionally. He was worn out. My Dad was a loyal, loving, and an extremely burned out caretaker to my mom who lives with MS. This is a story for another day.
For now, in honor of my Dad’s birthday, I want to offer him a gift. And perhaps a gift to you as well.
Should we have more cake?
I could honor his birthday with cake because he really loved cake. Or because my Dad knew I loved and wanted to write, I thought I could honor him another way.
Today, writing will be my cake. So for your first birthday in heaven, Dad, this is for you…Here is my cake.
Dear Dad –
You knew my love for writing maybe long before I knew.
You knew my love for writing when I wrote a book in elementary school and even in its smallness published this with the help of a young artist friend.
You knew my love for writing when you honored me by saving and hinting where to find them years before you got sick the many cards, letters, and books with inscriptions that I gifted you over the years. Not too long before you left us you told me where to look for a letter I had written over 20 years ago to you and mom about the grief I was experiencing over losing your parents, my precious dog friend and my brother-in-law’s mother all within a short amount of time. Oh, the mounting grief. In the letter, I wrote about grief and loss happening around us. “I don’t know what I am to do, the grief is all so much…” wrote my 23-year-old self.
Dad, you knew my love for writing when you gave me things several years ago that consisted of words – the baby book your mom so meticulously kept as a record about your baby life, the pages of the family tree files, a beautiful Bible and military correspondence from a beloved Uncle.
You knew what it all would mean to me.
You knew writing had been a desire on my heart for a long, long time. We talked about how both of us wanted someday to write a book. You told me you were keeping notes and journaled some hard things you worked through in life. I so hoped you would have been able to write your book.
So here’s to you, Dad. As my 23-year-old self wondered what she would do, my 49-year-old self has that figured out — the best way to channel my grief is to write. “Do what you love, and the healing will come.” has been placed on my heart.
This lover of words, a wordsmith so to speak, who is told by others to keep on writing, who has piles of journals and notebooks filled to the margins with words and phrases and ideas and events and who has written as long as I can remember to write an anthem of hope. So for this, I will write.
This writing may not be for everyone, but why I write is for many…
It’s for you, Dad.
It’s for all of your wants you could never have.
It’s for all of your dreams that never came true.
It’s for the book you never wrote, the ski trip we never took.
It’s for all that you gave and worried wasn’t enough, yet, you were so much more than you will ever know.
It’s for your heart and your loyalty.
It’s for your beautiful brokenness and your willingness to find holy peace in the end.
It’s to heal the wounded places.
It’s for my sister to hold her close when we were often world’s apart, to let her know how beautiful she is to me and that we’ll never be alone and she and all of her boys to men will always be loved.
It’s for my brother who in spite of and even though we struggle to see eye-to-eye so he knows I would go to the ends of the earth for him. It’s so he knows that I continue to hold him close in my heart and that he and his family will always have a place at my table.
It’s for my older brother and sister, so they know I always felt their love and protection even though we learned about life from a different space and that they know I need their guidance and wisdom more than ever as we walk in this middle place.
It’s for the family whose last name I was given so we can heal the misunderstandings, so they know if not for their love and devotion the other half of me would never have come to be. So they know they are loved beyond measure and the door is always wide open to both our home and our hearts because there is always forgiveness and their company is what we really need.
It’s for those friends built on faith and trust who stood beside me and led me to the truth as I searched for myself in all of the messiness and hurt. As they helped me peel back the layers and helped bring understanding that the journey home will come with an unfathomable amount of mercy, grace and love.
It’s for those in religious vocation who mothered and fathered me, for the teachers, coaches, and mentors (knowing or unknowing) who believed in me, encouraged me and who set an example of stability for me.
It’s for my mom who in her graceful aging has become sometimes unrecognizable, it is for the mom I used to know and sometimes still need, and often miss so much. For her perseverance, commitment in choosing to work the midnight shift as we all slept as she helped to provide for her family. And for her desire to do her very best even when circumstances were not quite what she planned or hoped they would be.
It’s for my son and my daughters because the world needs your faithfulness and compassion as they serve others with their divine gifts. It’s so they know how proud I am of their hearts, humility, and integrity, as they grow in the beautiful humans they are meant to be. It’s to show them how to love one another as they share their uniqueness, even when they must share each other’s space.
It’s for my best friend, my husband who shared in the commitment to provide our children with an example of unconditional love, and with that unconditional love, we were able to lean on one another tremendously in the hardest days of our lives while still always laughing in the rain! You’ve taught the meaning of dying to self and laughing at everything.
It’s for me, Dad, it’s for the words that have been crafted in my heart for so long. It’s for the hope placed on my heart to bear witness to the glory of God and to honor my call to love others well even when life seems to let us down. It’s to offer a soft place to land for those around us, to encourage those who are stuck, to provide hope in the scary, and to let those around me know they are never alone.
And it’s for the unfailing love of our GOoD and Faithful Father above, for without Him, this would mean nothing at all.
My Dear Daddy, who I miss so much, I offer this birthday gift to you and I welcome you to my new writing space here at the House of Love and Laughter.
I have been building this place for as long as I can remember and yet there is still so much work to do. This is a place of joy and hope, learning and truth only possible with my hands open and eyes fixed above. This is a place where love will never end, and laughter can always be heard.
I dedicate this to you, Dad, on this day, the birthday you celebrate so far away, yet you’ve never felt so close.
Happy 81st birthday, Dad.
Happy 1st Birthday in Heaven.
This writing is my celebration of you and of the offering and “birth” of my new writing home.
This house, this writing – this writing is my cake.